uhm, I mean “Welcome to the launch of the Birth of an Answer website!”
As we work toward our September 18 event, we will be updating this blog on a weekly basis with short posts on the history of African American creative resistance to films like Birth of a Nation as well as the Hampton Roads response to the film’s release. We’ll also be uploading great behind the scenes materials from the Our Nation film shoot and interviews with our creative contributors. So please check back regularly.
In fact, here is a slideshow from Day 1 of the Our Nation film shoot. This footage was shot in front of the historic Wells Theatre in downtown, Norfolk, dressed up to look like the Lee movie palace with patrons lining up to see Birth of a Nation (and protestors picketing its release):
If you like what you see, please visit our Indiegogo campaign to help fund post-production on the project.
In the meantime, for this inaugural post, I thought I’d give readers a little bit of background on the project. I am the director of the Institute for the Humanities at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. One of the Institute’s core missions is to generate critical conversations among Hampton Roads residents through the arts and popular culture, with a particular emphasis on addressing local cultural, social, and political issues. The African American community in Hampton Roads comprises approximately 40% of the population, or three times the national average. On the personal front, one of my favorite things to do while a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin in the early 2000s was to attend silent film screenings at the Alamo Draft House Theatre where local musicians would perform live original scores. With all this in mind, the Institute set out to organize a series of screenings by African American filmmakers and work with area musicians to create and perform hyperlocalized scores for these films. This was back in January 2014.
A meeting between Tim Anderson, Terry Lindvall, Monty Ross and myself quickly crystallized the idea, focusing in on the upcoming Centennial of Birth of a Nation and Hampton Roads’ historic efforts to challenge the film’s racist content, which included the partial funding of Birth of a Race by Hampton University. We decided to screen Birth of a Race and have a new score composed and performed live at the screening. Unfortunately, a full version of the film no longer exists and even if one did, the discrepancy between the film’s intent and its final results likely made it a poor screening choice (though a fascinating historical case – please see Thomas Cripps’ essays on the troubled production history for Birth of a Race). That’s when we settled on Oscar Micheaux’s seminal Within our Gates, which was intentionally positioned by the filmmaker as a response to Birth of a Nation.
With film in place, we invited Dr. Adolphus Hailstork to compose a new score, which he has undertaken with great enthusiasm and excitement. We felt though that we were still missing a piece for the event that addressed the region’s efforts to ban the film. This is how Our Nation came into being. More on that development as well as the assembly of the multigenerational filmmakers panel in my next post…